When I had started working on Teragard, I had no idea what kind of a game I wanted it to be. Here are some things that I wanted, and I knew that not all of them would actually work together well:
- After making an NES Dragon Quest-inspired game in my first title, Sojourner, I knew I really wanted to take a step up and make an SNES Final Fantasy VI-inspired game as my next project.
- A couple months before Sojourner was published, the Nintendo Switch and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild had come out and changed my life forever. I wanted to make a game like that.
- I had always wanted to make a roguelike. I fell in love with the genre after I first played Spelunky, and since then I’ve always thought that, if done right, you could make a massive roguelike JRPG too.
- I really enjoy Dungeons & Dragons, at least as a concept. I love character creation, the classes, the item and spell names, the creatures. I think D&D has too many rules to actually be fun (if you have to pause the game every couple minutes to spend 15 minutes looking for an obscure rule in a giant manual, which is not fun). But I think some Dungeons & Dragons-based video games, particularly Neverwinter Nights, are really awesome, and I’ve always wanted to make a D&D-inspired game myself.
- I love when character creation is done with a purpose and an in-game explanation (like in Dragon Quest III or any of the Ogre Battle games), rather than through a menu (like in Neverwinter Nights).
- Even though I nearly died working on Sojourner, I knew I still wanted to make another game, but was fully aware I may never have the energy, time, or opportunity to make a third game. It meant I’d have to choose carefully what I wanted my next game to be.
- I wanted my next game to be considerably bigger than Sojourner, with a substantial amount of content and a solid vision of what it was meant to be. I also wanted it to be much more accessible and user-friendly than Sojourner (a game which was already very easy for first-time or lapsed gamers).
I had been kicking all of these thoughts around for years. When it came time to start planning my next game, knowing full-well that it might be my last video game project, how would I choose what kind of features to include in this game? What would it look like, how should it feel to play? The answer I came up with was an ambitious one.
Include everything, as long it is purposeful, user-friendly, and not overwhelming to the player
There are a lot of games that try too hard and throw too many ideas out there. A recent example is Square Enix’s Lost Sphear, which has features like cooking, mech armor, and weapon upgrades, that are each so pointless and infrequently-used, that you wonder why those features made it into the game in the first place. It was like the developers said, “Hey, here is a list of some random features that have made it into other good RPGs, so if we want our game to be a good RPG, we have to have those features too.” Which is absolutely the wrong idea. It’s totally fine to have a complex game that boasts many different kinds of features, but none of them should be something that the player can just ignore. They should all be simple, memorable, and frequently put to use by they player.
As I was getting started on planning the game that would become Teragard, I decided to literally include everything that I could have wanted to be in the game, but I would nix anything that would make the gameplay feel bloated or convoluted. So let’s go through my sources of inspiration and talk about how I incorporated each thing:
Final Fantasy VI – Visuals, combat, relics, & magicite
Based on appearances alone, some people might think Teragard is a straight-up ripoff of Final Fantasy VI. Teragard uses the same color palette as FFVI, a font and window color that is nearly identical, it has a similar combat system, and the character sprites look very similar.
Final Fantasy VI is one of my very favorite games ever. I love the graphics, love the combat, love how much the “relics” system shook up gameplay, and of course loved how every character could perform every combat role thanks to the unique way they learned magic spells by equipping “magicite.”
I had always wanted to make a game in the vein of FFVI, so including all of this stuff was a no-brainer.
Breath of the Wild – Open world & living off the land
When I played Breath of the Wild, it changed my life forever. It’s almost certainly become my favorite game in the Legend of Zelda series, and I am a lifelong hardcore Zelda fan all the way since Link to the Past. There were a few things that BotW did that I just really loved.
Having a gigantic world to explore right from the beginning of the game, full of secrets, and things to collect, all of which would be useful for you, was awesome. I definitely wanted to create a wide-open world in Teragard, all accessible right from the start. And a good way that BotW handled this openness in terms of difficulty was that every enemy in the game’s world was fairly weak at the beginning of the game, and would only become stronger after you completed the game’s main dungeons, which you could do at your own leisure. It only made sense that in my own game, enemies would scale in power according to the player’s level.
Another interesting thing about BotW was that enemies never dropped money, and you rarely found it as treasure. Most of your wealth was accumulated by selling items, and I thought that was an awesome system. I also somewhat-dislike the JRPG trope of finding money after combat– it’s like, experience I understand, but why does every monster roaming the land have money? So in Teragard, you are constantly finding items in the environment and from enemies, which you can either use or sell.
It goes without saying that one of the best parts of Zelda games are the puzzles, and Teragard is full of similar puzzles. There’s probably nothing that will truly wrack your brain (well, maybe one or two), but designing quick, fun puzzles was one of my favorite parts of making the game.
Roguelikes – How much randomization is too much?
Teragard is comparable to an SNES demake of Skyrim. The world is gigantic to the point that different players will do different quests and, clearly, will experience the game differently from each other. Nothing is actually randomized. But there were a few things I was able to do to incorporate some rogue-lite elements.
In Teragard, the game opens with character creation and an interview scene in which you get to explain your heroes’ backstories. This idea ties into my appreciation for in-game character creation features, instead of just navigating a menu to choose your characters.
You’ll get to decide your characters’ names, classes, and all kinds of information, even fun little things like what town you’re from, during this interview scene that kicks off the game. At the end of it, you get to decide where your adventure in Teragard will begin. Thanks to the enemies that scale according to your characters’ level, and the nonlinear, open nature of the world, I figured it didn’t actually matter too much where the player began the game, so long as the starting locations available would not be overwhelming.
Because of how many questions are asked of the player, getting through this introductory segment can take a long time. Not every player is going to care about the choices, and may just want to get straight into the game. Other folks might be on their second playthrough and not want to go through the beginning again.
So my solution to that was “Randomize Mode,” an option the player can select just before this introduction that will randomize the characters selected, the names of those characters, the starting location, and a number of other things.
A player who opts in to “Roguelike Mode” will likely have a very different gameplay experience than someone who spends a lot of time establishing their characters’ histories in that opening scene.
Neverwinter Nights – Good quests, and an open world that’s not too big
I love the setup of Neverwinter Nights. The game is divided into chapters, and each chapter is basically like its own little open world. For example, Chapter 1, which takes place in the city of Neverwinter, starts you out in the City Core. There are a number of things to do in that area, and you can choose to go north to the merchant district, east to the noble district, south to the docks, or west to the slum. There is typically one major quest to complete in each of the five main areas you get to explore in each chapter. The player has the freedom to go anywhere they want and take on the quests in any order, but they aren’t able to leave the city. It’s an open world with a lot of cool stuff to do, but it’s not overwhelmingly big or overstuffed.
So I basically borrowed all of those ideas for Teragard! In any area of the game, the player can decide if they want to go north, south, east, or west, and each location in the game has a central quest to complete in that area. The world in Teragard is more open, like in BotW, rather than closed off like in NWN, but I definitely pulled from the best ideas in NWN that made sense for my own game. Teragard’s world map is also more akin to the size of every chapter combined in a NWN campaign, rather than the unbelievably-gigantic map of BotW or Skyrim.
I also made a list of my favorite Dungeons & Dragons creatures, spells, and items, and those are some things you’ll come across in Teragard. I’m so happy that Mindflayers made the cut.
Combining all of this in a way that would be user-friendly and easy to understand
By pulling from such a wide range of influences, the game might seem like it would get confusing. But it totally doesn’t, as a lot of these features don’t actually conflict with each other. The game’s features tend to complement each other quite well.
For some examples: Many of the games that inspired Teragard have an open world. Okay, cool, done, it’s in the game. Having enemies that become more difficult as the player becomes stronger, like in BotW, was a perfect fit to make the nonlinear nature of an open world better. The combat and visuals are derived pretty exclusively from FFVI, which itself became a open-world game in its second half.
Here are some features I came up with to make all of this even better:
- All shopkeepers can give the player a tutorial at any time about how to earn money and what the items found in the field are good for.
- The player can disable combat encounters entirely, at any time, right from the menu, if they just want to explore and gather treasure. Dedicated RPG fans who enjoy grinding can also increase the combat encounter rate.
- For players that are having a difficult time with the game, the game’s difficulty can be reduced from the game’s Settings page, also accessible from the in-game menu. Difficulty can also be increased for those who would like more of a challenge.
- Combat has auto-battle and fast-forwarding, so if you want to get those sweet experience points and see your characters grow stronger, without actually having to pay too much attention, you can just have the game automate combat for you.
- If you die in combat, the game gives you the option, right then and there, to retry. It even gives you the chance to decrease the difficulty so that you are more likely to win on your next try. You can also reload a save file if you’d prefer.
- You can save the game anywhere, anytime, and in any number of slots.
- Because the world is so large, you can open a map of the world at any time and freely fast-travel to any location you have been before.
- Because there are so many quests to take on and it might be easy to lose track of them all, the quest log is visible on the map screen and will show you exactly where to go in order to complete the quest, and inform you of what to do.
And a lot of these features I included are very clear, obvious, and accessible right from the main menu. With few exceptions, such as adjusting the difficulty rate, I would expect that every player would use every feature in the game. They are all useful, have a purpose, and are easy-to-understand.
So that’s how you do it! You don’t just look at every feature from every game you’ve ever played and throw it into the pot, like Square Enix did with Lost Sphear, you look at a select number of games that really inspired you and take only the very best features, and from there only the features that you are confident would all work well in conjunction with each other, and then add your own original features that tie it all together in a neat package that the player will quickly grasp.